03/31/2015 01:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Governor Pence Is Right: Tolerance is Not a Liberal Value


Poor Governor Mike Pence, victim of Intolerance.

Sunday morning, in "sorry, not sorry" mode, the Indiana governor visited George Stephanopoulos to clarify, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he has no intention of changing the state's newly passed Religious Freedom Reformation Act or pushing for protected status for the Hoosier state's LGBT citizens, which would ensure the RFRA could not be used to target them.

Many had thought the governor would strike a conciliatory tone, but Pence was unapologetic. In full Culture Warrior mode, all but ensuring a plum slot on the speakers roster at the next RNC (and maybe even on the ticket), Pence lashed out at the media, liberals and (without ever deigning to name them) members of the LGBT community for shamelessly unloosing an "avalanche of intolerance" on Indiana.

Those protesting a law co-authored by Curt Smith, President of Indiana Family Institute (who has likened homosexuality to bestiality) and promoted by Eric Miller of Advance America (who celebrated SB101 as the only means of "protection" for "Churches, Christian businesses and individuals ... from those who support homosexual marriages and those who support government recognition and approval of gender identity -- men who dress as women") were the intolerant ones, and Pence wasn't having it! The Hoosier state was fighting back! "I think people are getting tired of it, George, I really do," Pence snapped at Stephanopoulos. "And I'm not going to take it lying down."

Preferred positions for taking it aside, crying victim and labeling liberals "intolerant" for opposing discriminatory legislation is, unfortunately, nothing new for Culture Warriors on the right. And Pence used his ten minutes of fame to drive the point home. "Is tolerance a two-way street or not?" Pence trolled. "I mean there's a lot of talk about tolerance today having to do with people on the left.... And this avalanche of intolerance has been poured on our state!"

I don't know who Governor Pence has been eavesdropping on, but as a lifelong progressive and a proud member of the LGBT community, I know of no "talk on the left" that highlights "tolerance" as an aspiration among my cohort. I have heard talk of diversity, inclusion, universal access, individual empowerment, and mutual respect. I have heard progressives speak of protecting and extending voters' rights, improving public education and expanding economic opportunity to all. Liberals like big, bright ideas that embrace the belief in a culture of opportunity for everyone and inspire those who struggle for opportunity in a society that's not quite there yet. Progressivism, I'm not ashamed to say, is aspirational. No one aspires to be tolerated. And no liberal I know would hail tolerance as the best we can do or be to one another.

Liberal values aren't about tolerating difference, they're about celebrating it. Progressives are all about finding our strength as communities and as a nation in our incredible diversity. Despite cynical histrionics on the right that claim the contrary, this includes all religious belief and practice that does not seek to coerce, oppress, or harm.

Governor Pence's attempt to co-opt religion in pursuit of a political agenda rings particularly false given the opposition to the RFRA by Christians in his own state.

Mainline and Progressive Christianity acknowledges the central message of the gospels. As Rev. Sharon Watkins of the Disciples of Christ denomination, which has had its headquarters in Indianapolis for more than a century, said in a letter to Governor Pence critical of the RFRA: "As a Christian church, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow -- one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all."

The Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis also issued a Pastoral Letter on the RFRA, reading in part: "Provision of a legal way for some among us to choose to treat others with disdain and contempt is the worst possible use of the rule of law. For Episcopalians, whose lives are ordered in the Gospel of Christ and the promises of our Baptismal Covenant, it is unthinkable."

I don't know what religion Mike Pence is, but the Christian religion does not call for tolerance, regardless of what a political party with a persecution complex would have him believe. The Christ of the gospels did not exhort his disciples to "tolerate thy neighbors," but to love them.

Just to clarify.